FLIGHT of REMEMBRANCE

A World War II Memoir of Love and Survival
Marina Dutzmann Kirsch

Kensington, New Hampshire

Copyright ©2012 by Marina Dutzmann Kirsch. All rights reserved. With the exception of brief quotations for articles or reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher of this book. Kirsch, Marina Dutzmann. Flight of remembrance : a World War II memoir of love and survival / Marina Dutzmann Kirsch. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. LCCN 2011910888 ISBN-13: 978-0-9835653-4-5 ISBN-10: 0-9835653-4-1 1. Dutzmann, Rolf, 1919- 2. Dutzmann, Lilo, 19213. World War, 1939-1945--Germany--Biography. 4. World War, 1939-1945--Women--Germany--Biography. 5. Latvia-History--1918-1940. I. Title. D811.5.K57 2011 940.53'092'2 QBI11-600142

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are part of the Dutzmann family collection. Although the author and editors have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of all of the information in this book including historical facts, no responsibility will be assumed for errors, inaccuracies, omissions or inconsistencies. For more information, please visit www.kirschstonebooks.com or email the author at mkirsch@kirschstonebooks.com

Rolf and Lilo Dutzmann, postwar Germany, 1949 Flight of Remembrance is dedicated to the people of Wakarusa, Indiana, a small town with a big heart, and to my parents, Rolf and Lilo, two otherwise ordinary people whose unfailing devotion to God, family and each other makes them a shining example to all who know them. These characteristics form the golden thread that runs throughout their wartime and postwar experiences even up to the present time, weaving events of their lives in extraordinary ways to create a rich tapestry of love, hope and optimism amidst adversity. But this book is also dedicated to the millions of people who did not survive to share their stories of the twentieth century’s most gruesome and devastating war.

Contents
Acknowledgments........................................................ix Foreword: In War’s Vortex ............................................xii Preface..............................................................................xvi Prologue: Farewell to the Old World ............................xxi Map: Northern Europe, December 1939 ....................xxv
PART I IMAGINATION (Rolf ’s Story)

Chapter 1: Storm Clouds Gather........................................3 Chapter 2: Taking Flight from Latvia..............................14 Chapter 3: An Invitation from the SS..............................19 Chapter 4: Harsh Awakening in Poland..........................24 Chapter 5: Early Years on the Baltic Sea..........................27 Chapter 6: A Boy with Vision ..........................................32 Chapter 7: Developing a Technical Calling ....................38 Chapter 8: The 1936 Olympics........................................41 Chapter 9: The Final Years in Latvia................................46
Contents v

Chapter 10: Delaying the Draft........................................51 Chapter 11: May I Have This Dance?................................59
PART II FAITH (Lilo’s Story)

Chapter 12: A Girl Who Dreams......................................79 Chapter 13: Learning to Walk ..........................................85 Chapter 14: School Days End ..........................................91 Chapter 15: On Wings of Song ........................................98 Chapter 16: When Sirens Sound....................................103 Chapter 17: The Crossing Letters ..................................107 Chapter 18: The Zoppot Idyll ........................................112
Part III SURVIVAL

Chapter 19: Drafted into the Luftwaffe..........................123 Chapter 20: A Second Serving of Käsetorte..................130 Chapter 21: Terror in the Night......................................135 Chapter 22: The Bombing of Peenemünde ..................143 Chapter 23: Berlin Amidst the Ashes ............................149 Chapter 24: The War Effort Falters ..............................156
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Chapter 25: The Family Home in Ruins ......................159 Chapter 26: Escape to Havelberg ..................................164 Chapter 27: Perfecting Hitler’s Secret Weapon ............168 Chapter 28: Something Borrowed, Something Blue ....174 Chapter 29: Flower Petals Along Their Path ................179
PART IV DESPERATION

Chapter 30: The Allies Advance ....................................193 Chapter 31: The Russians are Coming ..........................201 Chapter 32: Crossing the Harz Mountains ..................208 Chapter 33: Dispatch to the Front ................................212 Chapter 34: POW in the Freezing Mud ........................219 Chapter 35: Escape from the Soviet Zone ....................228 Chapter 36: A Startling Revelation................................233 Chapter 37: The First Woman I See ..............................236 Chapter 38: En Route to Bingen....................................241
PART V HOPE

Chapter 39: Postwar Privation and Pleasure ................249 Chapter 40: The Harshest Winter..................................254
Contents vii

Chapter 41: On the List for America..............................262 Chapter 42: I Look to the Hills ....................................267 Chapter 43: Last-Minute Surprises ..............................275 Epilogue: From Dream to Reality..................................281 Endnotes..........................................................................290 Appendix 1: A Word about Sources and Dialogue ....294 Appendix 2: A Word about Ernst Dutzmann............299 Appendix 3: The Mittelbau-Dora
Concentration Camp Memorial............320

Bibliography ..............................................................323 Index ..............................................................................325

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Acknowledgments

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he Dutzmann family will be forever indebted to the people of Wakarusa, Indiana, especially Jesse and Amanda Longfield, Roy and Grace Summers, and Edward and Liz Nusbaum who bore the risk of sponsoring members of our family to immigrate to the US. Along with the Bittingers, Rogers, Lechlitners, Weldys, Browns, Yoders and others, they also spared no expense or effort to make us feel welcome. Their kindness was of a magnitude that can never be adequately repaid. In retrospect, we realize that we were fortunate to be “adopted” by a group of Americans as helpful and altruistic as any to be found on the North American continent. We are also grateful to C. G. Conn, Ltd. (cgconn.com), an industry leader then and now in the manufacture of musical instruments, for offering Rolf and Ernst their first employment in the USA.

There are numerous people who assisted with this book. I thank Dr. Angelo Codevilla, veteran author (claremont.org/scholars/id.25/scholar.asp), Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University, and former senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for the insightful and heartwarming foreword he supplied to introduce and accompany my family’s story, including glimpses into his own postwar experiences in Italy. Sound advice that I received from Sam Baily, Rutgers University history Professor Emeritus, regarding sections of the narrative, as well as clarification of sources in the appendix and bibliography, was tremendously helpful and has served to make the book more informative to readers. Additional feedback and recommendations for the technical sections of the manuscript about the V-2 rocket and Appendix II about Ernst Dutzmann, as

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well as corrections to the December 1939 map of northern Europe, were graciously supplied by Dr. Michael J. Neufeld of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian (gosmithsonian.com/ museums/ national-air-andspace-museum). Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial in Germany (dora.de), provided transcripts of my grandfather, Ernst Dutzmann’s, statements after the war, as well as websites and general information that helped me to piece together the scenes dealing with my grandfather’s technical work during the war and supplemental information about him to include in Appendix II. He also read all of the technical sections of the manuscript to ensure accuracy and provided an informative tour of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial site when my husband and I visited in September of 2011. It is heartening that the memorial presents its grim subject matter in such a thorough and thoughtful manner, with the deepest respect and recognition rendered to the thousands of concentration camp inmates who suffered and died at that location during World War II. Three German relatives, Marta Siemes, Ilse Dietel and Dr. Guido Dietel, searched through their family photo archives to come up with additional wartime photographs. Theirs is also the family that so generously took in my mother, my aunt and both grandmothers during the early postwar time in Krefeld, Germany when housing was so scarce. During the final months before publication, I received much-appreciated suggestions from Janet Szarmach, director of the Kensington, New Hampshire Public Library (kensingtonpubliclibrary.org). My heartfelt thanks to all of the aforementioned for their valuable assistance. My central support and primary cheering section throughout the process of researching, writing and editing this book have been my parents, Rolf and Lilo, and my older brother, Ingo, Senior Pastor at the First Lutheran Church of Boston (flc-boston.org). They verified a myriad of facts, proofread countless versions of the manuscript, prevented a multitude of mistakes and regularly offered priceless encouragement in order to support my vision for this book. A close

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friend, Helen Kredo, also devoted considerable time to reading versions of the manuscript and offering suggestions. I deeply appreciate their love, consideration and efforts. In the final phase of the writing odyssey, I was fortunate enough to work with three outstanding editors, all three of whom are knowledgeable about World War II material—Paul Schneider (www.schneiderbooks.com) and Maggy and Alan Graham (wordsandpicturespress.com). Paul’s insightful comments on the first chapter led to a rewrite of the entire book to make it more consistent, descriptive and compelling. Maggy has been my sounding board and guiding light for the entire finished manuscript, helping to mold it into the best work possible and dispensing many valuable suggestions along the way. She has an impressive ability to ferret out small errors and inconsistencies without ever losing sight of the big picture and the central themes of a story. Towards the end of the editing process, her husband, Alan Graham, offered his services to read the manuscript with an eye to restructuring some of the content. The result was a narrative that flows more smoothly with a more consistent point of view. I am very grateful to all three editors for their friendly professionalism, enthusiasm and attention to detail. Websites for Wakarusa, Indiana: amishcountry.org/explore-the-area/cities-and-towns/wakarusa wakarusa.org wakarusachamber.com

Acknowledgments

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Foreword

In War's Vortex
By Dr. Angelo M. Codevilla

M

ost of the millions of people caught up in wars direct their energies to surviving them with their persons, families, morals and hopes for the future as intact as possible. When forces bent on war press any country’s inhabitants into service, they narrow the options for survival, demand the utmost of labor in exchange for the meagerest sustenance, and subject all to circumstances and arbitrary decisions, each of which can make the difference between life and death. At the war’s end, survivors unlucky enough to be on the losing side must try to keep body, soul, family and hopes alive through even greater privation imposed by victorious forces over which they have even less control. Americans, having been blessed with peace at home for a century and a half, have no direct knowledge of such things. That is why Americans should read Flight of Remembrance, the story of the Dutzmann family’s odyssey from 1920s Latvia through the Germany of World War II, ending in immigration to America’s Promised Land. All families, all circumstances, are special. The Dutzmanns are unusual in that all of them lived through the war. Their technical expertise gave them access to military specialties that reduced their exposure to death, shielded their lack of enthusiasm for the Nazi cause, enabled them to earn enough not to starve,

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and eventually improved their eligibility for immigration to the United States. Nevertheless, their experience is in many ways familiar to all Europeans who struggled through war and occupation. The Dutzmann family’s story grips me: as a student of war, as someone whose childhood memories are of privation in war-torn Italy, and as a family man grateful for never having had to conjure up morsels of food and lumps of coal day after day, and for never having had to stand in front of officials who held my family’s life in their hands. The author of this story, Marina Dutzmann Kirsch, born days before the family came to America, organized her parents’ and grandparents’ remembrances into snapshots of her father’s and mother’s families at different stages of their lives. Most chapters, while recounting deeply personal concerns with life and love, achievement and disappointment, are set in the context of major international events. The point could not be clearer: as the war ground on, ordinary people tried not to be ground to dust. The Dutzmanns, like many if not most Europeans, were of mixed nationality: legally citizens of Latvia, ethnically German, but formerly subjects of Imperial Russia, in whose army Ernst Dutzmann, the author's grandfather, had served as an officer during World War I. The Stalin-Hitler pact that started World War II turned Latvia over to Stalin, forcing the family to choose between immediate execution or exile to Siberia on the one hand or repatriation and service to Germany on the other. How much loyalty do you owe to a government you dislike and to a war that has already deprived you of your home? Ernst Dutzmann reminded his family that it had some moral obligation to Germany, a country that had rescued them from the fate that Stalin reserved for ethnic Germans and outspoken anticommunists in the Baltic States, and the only country that welcomed the family to pursue life within its borders. The German war machine continued to stand between them and the Soviets. Besides, it would be senseless suicide for ordinary people to flout or sabotage the regime. Yet to live was to work, and to work was to help a regime not of the family’s choice. Ernst, employed as a top-notch engineer, performed as such. Rolf ’s upbringing and schooling had prepared him

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to follow in his father’s professional footsteps. He was drafted. Ethics and practical necessity merged to steer him into decisions where he could do the best for himself while fulfilling his duties and doing the least harm. At the time, father and son could have done much better for themselves and their family by joining the Nazi party and the SS. But neither did that. Their wartime story was of hunkering down and hoping that the peril would pass them by. As the storm rages, people think above all of their loved ones. Does he love me? Does she love me? Rolf asked himself whether Mother and Father would approve of his choice of a marriage partner and whether lifetime commitments even make sense at a time when all lives hang by the slenderest of threads. Lilo, on the other hand, had her own reasons to be wary of the relationship. Would they finally decide to marry? Would Rolf be able to obtain wedding leave during some of the darkest times of the war? Would the couple find a clergyman willing to straddle the line between Catholic and Protestant? Where and how would enough food be obtained for the celebration amidst severe wartime rationing? If they did finally marry, would they survive to make a life together or would they become just two more casualties of Nazi Germany's devastating Total War policy? Most surprising to readers who have never had to struggle through war’s grip is how peripheral the huge events of the epoch are to those who endure them, and how central, how memorable, are such personal concerns as maintaining one’s honor, developing one’s career, making a good marriage, and keeping the family together with as much contact as possible with its past, as well as meeting the daily challenges of survival. For many civilians in wartime, a cup of real, instead of ersatz, coffee or a handful of vegetables from a local farm, along with acts of kindness exhibited by friends and total strangers alike, provide vivid and lasting memories, while accounts of the major turning points of war, the battles and the casualties, are destined to remain once removed from consciousness. As World War II’s storm passed, it left millions of Central Europeans destitute, separated from their families, and subject to competing jurisdictions. For these millions, the paramount preoccupation was to get away from the

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Soviet troops and thereafter to reconnect with their families while saving such material means of survival as they could. The Dutzmann and Wassull families were no exception to this, experiencing upheaval after upheaval and chaos upon chaos in the quest not only to survive, but to piece together what remained of lives harshly compromised by the dire circumstances of wartime. Americans—and Europeans younger than fifty-five or so—can hardly imagine what America meant to the generation of Europeans who lived through World War II. My earliest, most pleasant memories in postwar Italy were of receiving care packages from America and chocolate from American soldiers. America was the place whence all good things flowed, a place that had to be inhabited by people far more powerful and far more beneficent than any human beings that ever walked the soil of the Old World. Children dreamed of America. Adults yearned to go there. We really did not understand America. But all sensed that it was different, and better. The care packages themselves were wonders, filled with life-giving fats and proteins, with canned meats measured in pounds rather than scant grams. And the Americans were just giving these things away, even to former enemies. Why the Americans were more generous and more trusting as well as richer, none of us knew. But many of us were so struck by the idea of America that we wanted to become Americans. Some of us were actually blessed with the chance so to transform ourselves. The Dutzmanns’ flight of remembrance ends with their flight to America. This reader, who celebrates the anniversary of his own 1955 arrival in New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty more fervently than a birthday and whose first contacts with American society still fill him with wonder, recommends that the author someday explore further her family’s remembrances to encompass the contrast between their former lives as Europeans and their new ones as Americans. Dr. Angelo M. Codevilla Professor Emeritus, Boston University Author of War: Ends And Means Plymouth, California

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Preface

I

grew up in a German immigrant family during the expansive 1950s in the American near-West. The first language my brothers and I learned was not English, but German—the predominant language spoken at home in those early years. By the time I reached school age, however, the English language was rapidly gaining linguistic dominion over our household.

In order to preserve our German language skills, my parents chose to amuse and inspire us with tales from German storybooks, with our favorite being Der Struwwelpeter, loosely translated as Shock-Headed Peter, an endearing and cleverly illustrated, sometimes funny, occasionally frightening, children’s book of cautionary tales. Written by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, a nineteenth century German physician and psychiatrist (1809-1894), it is a classic that has been around to entertain and instruct generations of children ever since the mid1800s, including both my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. It contains stories about the tragedies that might befall children who play with matches, refuse to eat their dinner, don't watch where they are going, or suck their thumbs. As I got older, it dawned on me that many of the stories have a depth of meaning hidden from the very young by charmingly simple words and pretty pictures. Underneath the frequently humorous surface details, they actually address some of the larger issues in life, such as bigotry and racism, cruelty towards people and animals, disregard for authority, and the realization that consequences continually spring from all of our actions. Having played a part in my parents’ formative years as well as my own, Der Struwwelpeter provides a colorful common thread weaving through the Flight of Remembrance narrative. It is a familiar icon to many people of German descent but also a poignant

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reminder to readers everywhere that even in the midst of the utmost turmoil, people struggle to maintain their daily life and a sense of normalcy: to eat, to breathe, to seek warmth, comfort and shelter, and to read stories to their children. As an adult, I continue to be intrigued and entertained by a good story. I absorbed bits and pieces of my parents’ and grandparents’ wartime experiences throughout my growing up years. But it was not until the fall of 1994, when I finished reading the 230-page family history painstakingly written by my parents over the course of many years, that I finally gained an overview of the expansive saga spanning the years from World War I through post-World War II. I was stunned by the emotional sweep, the high drama and suspense, and the profoundly human elements, as well as the astonishing, synchronistic chain of events, that make their narrative so compelling and so memorable. Almost a decade later, in November of 2003, I was moved anew by their story when a New Hampshire newspaper, The Concord Sunday Monitor, printed a lengthy frontpage article “For German soldier, a long, strange road to freedom,” complete with sepia-tone World War II era photographs. Again in 2004, The Laconia Citizen ran a story on the front page of the “Living” section entitled “Love conquers all: German couple celebrates 60th wedding anniversary.” In the spring of 2009, the Citizen ran yet another story in honor of my father’s approaching 90th birthday. Over time, I became convinced that this story should be offered to a much wider readership. At a time when eyewitnesses to World War II are dying out and the world is still struggling to come to grips with the reality of that most devastating of all armed conflicts, Flight of Remembrance provides a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people who were positioned on “the other side.” Swept along on a tide of dire necessity and circumstance, Rolf, a young man with a passion for aeronautical engineering is forced to relocate from his Latvian homeland to Nazi Germany. There, in the pursuit of his career, he is drafted into the military and becomes embroiled in a war that threatens to bring about his demise. But it is also a story of the seen and unseen forces that coalesce to keep him, his family and the love of his life, Lilo, alive as they experience relentless, cataclysmic events

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beyond imagining for anyone who has not experienced the ravages of war waged on home soil. Whereas Flight of Remembrance chronicles a young man’s passion for his calling and his pursuit of a technical career against daunting wartime odds, it is first and foremost a tender and enduring love story that plays out against a panorama of worldwide chaos and destruction. What became crystal clear to me as I researched historical material for this book is the truly worldwide scope of suffering in World War II, with almost every nation across the globe tragically affected. I also found that the atrocities and genocide perpetrated under the Stalin regime were equally or more horrifying and brutally destructive than those masterminded by the Nazi regime in Germany. Countries such as the Baltic States, Poland and other eastern European nations that were precariously situated between the two dictatorships suffered devastating consequences. In the case of the area of Europe now known as Poland, repeated takeovers accompanied by executions, deportations and massive human and material losses occurred during both World Wars. Through my work on this book to retell my parents’ wartime experiences, I feel that I have lived and breathed the most agonizing chapter in twentieth century history, thereby experiencing indirectly a world shattered by conflict, but I have also had the delightful privilege of coming to know my parents in a totally new and different way—as the two young people they were before I was born. They were two people in love, but fatefully positioned in Nazi Germany, at the epicenter of a worldwide conflagration that ruthlessly incinerated the hopes, the dreams and the lives of tens of millions of people. Although reports of World War II death rates vary widely, the death toll is generally estimated at between fifty and seventy-seven million, with the total military dead approximated at twenty-five million including four to five million prisoners of war. The Allied forces suffered over eighteen million losses, largely due to the vast number of Soviet casualties, and the Axis forces six million. Roughly three and a quarter million of those military losses were German. Far more staggering than the estimate of military casualties during World War II, however, is the civilian death toll of forty to fifty-two million people

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worldwide. As many as twenty million people perished from war-related disease and famine. Almost nine million were Holocaust victims, among them six million Jews. Civilian deaths in Germany numbered upwards of two-and-a-half million, with an estimated 543 thousand of those resulting from air raids on German cities. Flight of Remembrance portrays a group of strong, resilient German women, but they could have been women from any other time and any other place in the world who survived a major war. Lilo, Gertrud, Maria and Ruth share the everyday hardships and emotions common to women everywhere during such harrowing times as they deal with the catastrophic circumstances that crash in on them not just once, but over and over again like deadly breakers on a hostile shore. Fears for personal survival and the survival of loved ones, interminable times of waiting for news and receiving none, the loss of home and possessions due to bombings and forced relocations, the ever-present physical trials and setbacks—these and other experiences were common themes in their daily lives. But the distinguishing feature of this group of women, lending a sense of light and hope to the story, is the combination of their eternal optimism, faith in God, and fearless, instinctive ingenuity in the face of adversity. These traits enabled them to display extraordinary courage and determination, to take risks and make decisions that, under ordinary circumstances, would have been the prerogative of the men of their era. They also maintained a perennial attitude of hope that flew in the face of dire outer conditions and rejoiced in the small pleasures of life wherever they could still be found during wartime. The overall resourcefulness and fortitude displayed by the women in the family created a chain of mutual assistance that helped to ensure the survival of all whom they loved and far surpassed what they would have been inspired to do under peacetime conditions. Selfless acts of kindness from others and the assistance of total strangers proved pivotal to my family’s survival as well, suggesting that, side by side with the baser aspects of human nature that were exhibited to such an appalling degree during World War II, there also existed a nobler urge that surfaced at times—an underlying sense of connectedness and mutual responsibility that prompted the human family to act from kind-hearted, altruistic motives.

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It is unlikely that a mere instinct for survival would have resulted in the kind of positive outcome that my family experienced at a time when millions of their generation perished. Technical skills undoubtedly helped them to survive, but throughout the war and postwar years, they also displayed a resilient sense of inner purpose along with an unwavering conviction that a better future awaited them. From being airborne in a glider over the fields of Latvia to the development and use of his skills in the US many years later, my father, Rolf, never lost sight of his dream. Perhaps it was farsighted attitudes such as these that enabled members of my family not only to embrace opportunities that would ensure survival, but also to remain solidly focused on future prosperity and happiness amidst tragic and turbulent times. Whatever the reasons, they blazed a determined path of survival through a daunting wilderness of death and destruction, emerging out of the rubble to embrace a bold new vision of their destiny. The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, exactly twenty-two years prior to the day I wrote this paragraph. That day marked a literal and symbolic reunification of what was ripped asunder during World War II, bringing with it a much-needed healing. The enormous trauma of World War II combat, programmed mass genocide under both the Nazi and Soviet regimes, communities being torn asunder, homes destroyed, families irrevocably separated, the land ravaged, lives cut short: all created a tremendous Weltschmerz (universal pain and suffering). Images of that time captured in film, photos, print and memory will continue to rise as ghastly specters to haunt the human family for all generations to come. It is my hope, without in any way diminishing the stories of those who perished unjustly, that Flight of Remembrance will provide an uplifting reminder that out of somber darkness, new life can arise like a radiant dawn. May humanity now rise to usher in a future of peace and freedom, in which kindness is extended to all beings and all people are empowered to realize their most cherished dreams. Marina Dutzmann Kirsch Kensington, NH December, 2011

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Prologue

Farewell to the Old World

O

n a cold, blustery, late December day in 1951, a tall man clutching a felt fedora held a little boy firmly by the hand as they crossed the windy tarmac to board a waiting Swissair flight. The hem of his long, double-breasted topcoat flapped insistently with each step. Just ahead of them, a woman of medium height with soft, gentle features and blonde hair neatly upswept beneath a felt hat, carried an infant bundled up like a cocoon against the chill morning air. “Will we be going very high in the air above those clouds, Papa?” Ingo asked as he skipped alongside his father. “Ja, Ingolein, we will be going very high,” his father replied somewhat distractedly while scanning the overcast sky and distant horizon. “How high, Papa?” After thinking a moment, he replied, “Oh, I would say fifteen thousand feet or so.” Then, noticing his son’s puzzled look, he added, “It would take many Empire State Buildings one on top of the other to get as high in the sky as we will be going.” There was silence as the little boy digested this bit of information, obviously impressed. Ever since his parents, Rolf and Lilo, had told him that they would soon be leaving their homeland and going far, far away across the ocean, the

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little boy had been bursting with curiosity about the place called America. And of all the wonders that he had been told about the new land, the Empire State Building had always struck his young imagination as the most magnificent and magical of all. “That is very, very high, Papa! And what will keep us from falling out of the sky?” At this, Lilo turned in amusement, her expression soft and gentle. “Don’t start your papa on that, Ingo. You will get a very long, confusing answer that you won’t be able to understand because you are too young.” Ingo was carrying a little red suitcase in one hand, and under his other arm, a picture book. As Rolf helped him up the metal steps to the plane, Ingo hugged the book more tightly to his side. Rolf smiled. The book had been Ingo’s favorite for most of his four years. The little metal suitcase, however, was brand new— an early Christmas gift received from his grandmother just a couple of weeks previously. Ingo looked up at his father, ready to launch another question, when a sudden strong gust of wind stole the words from his mouth. Rolf turned his intense gaze to Lilo, ahead of them on the steps, who somehow managed to hold onto her hat while cradling their infant daughter more tightly in the other arm. Once safely settled on board, Ingo held up the treasured book to Rolf insistently. On the cover was an amusing, colorful figure with unkempt hair and outrageously long fingernails with the title Der Struwwelpeter arched above it in bright red, antique script. All of Ingo’s favorite stories were in that book, accompanied by colorful illustrations: the story of Struwwelpeter (Shock-Headed Peter), who refused to cut his hair and nails, as well as stories about what happens to little boys who suck their thumbs, who refuse to eat their dinner and who are cruel to people and animals. Rolf noticed that Ingo quickly turned past the story that never failed to make him cry, the one about Paulinchen, a little girl who insisted on playing with matches and came to a dreadful end. It was no day for sad stories. “Please, Papa, read me this story, the one about the little rabbit in the leafy nest and the man with the gun!” he pleaded as he wriggled back into his seat to get more comfortable.

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Rolf, having settled his wife and daughter, smiled tenderly at his son and began to read about a hunter who goes out to shoot a rabbit, but the rabbit outwits the hunter by stealing his gun while he is taking a nap under a tree. The rabbit then turns the gun on the hunter, but only manages instead to shoot a coffee cup out of the hand of the hunter’s wife, who is leaning out of the window of their house. This causes hot coffee to spill and burn the nose of the rabbit’s child, a little bunny who is sitting in the grass below the window. Lilo attempted to rock her daughter to sleep by humming softly to her. But the baby was wide awake, her pensive, blue-eyed gaze widening as if captivated by the sound of her father’s voice, or perhaps mesmerized by the clouds outside the window that swept with relentless urgency across her field of vision. Not until adulthood did I finally understand the lesson of that story—that the results of our actions continue to reverberate into our future whether we realize the connection or not, that for every action there is a reaction and a consequence for good or for ill. But on that day in December of 1951, I was too young to understand the stories in my brother’s book, much less to realize the impact that this solitary plane flight would have on my family’s future—a future very different from the past we were leaving behind. This flight to the New World was the culmination of a long sequence of flights—from my father’s first flight in Latvia on a glider marked with the historic cross of the Latvian National Guard, to flights of technical genius, flights of imagination, and flights of the human spirit that made possible courageous leaps of faith into dim uncertainty. Even more poignant were the flights of raw desperation, sheer necessity and stark survival that tore like mortar shells through the years before I was born. The vast conflict gripping the world ripped away at the very fabric of my family’s existence, threatening to immolate with merciless finality all living generations, along with those yet unborn, in a brutal, yet spell-binding incendiary display.

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Flight of RemembranceLocations and Journeys Map
(Showing northern Europe with December 1939 borders)

The Dutzmann family’s escape from Latvia to Germany by ship in December 1939, arriving in Seebad Bansin, then Posen and Litzmannstadt in German-occupied Poland, then in Berlin, Wiegandsthal and Benneckenstein in Germany proper. Rolf and Ernst were moved to additional locations on this map during their military service. Lilo and Gertrud’s journey first from Berlin to Havelberg to escape the bombing in March 1944, and then 100 miles on foot from Havelberg to Benneckenstein to flee the advancing Soviet troops in May 1945 Rolf ’s 160-mile journey on foot from the front near the Rhine River to Benneckenstein in April 1945 Gertrud’s three round-trip solo journeys by train, on foot and hitchhiking into the Soviet Zone between 1945 and 1947
▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲

Map of Dutzmann and Wassull Journeys

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Part I

IMAGINATION
(Rolf ’s Story)

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Chapter 1

Storm Clouds Gather

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he details and circumstances of the morning when the phone call came were not so different from most other mornings. Like a footprint left in the sand of one of Rolf ’s favorite Baltic beaches, a footprint destined to be washed away by a merciless surf, the phone call came and went. He had no way of knowing that in its wake, all that had become comfortingly familiar in his life would be swept away wholesale in the storm surge of subsequent events. Had that phone call never come, life as he knew it might have continued for a time, but before long, the disaster and loss that was soon to descend on Latvia would have overtaken his family as well. “Rolf, you must come home right away!” his father insisted emphatically over the wire. It was October 21, 1939, when Rolf received the call in the hallway of the boarding house in Riga where he was renting a room in order to pursue his aeronautical engineering studies at the University of Latvia. He had been filled with excitement upon arriving in the city that was both the capital of Latvia and a key seaport—a city situated on the Daugava River just nine miles from the Gulf of Riga where the river spilled into the vast, blue expanse of the Baltic Sea. “Why?” he asked.

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But his query only received the cryptic reply, “We will tell you when you get here. Just come home as quickly as you can!” There was no mistaking the urgency of the message, and not just from the tone of his father’s voice. Of all the people in the world, his father, Ernst, understood better than anyone how much Rolf ’s aeronautical engineering studies meant to him. It often seemed to Rolf that all of his twenty years up to that time had been a preparation for what he considered to be his calling. Now that he had finally begun his technical training, the abrupt summons home was all the more troubling, since an interruption to his studies, begun only two months prior, could prove to be a serious setback. He surmised that there must be very bad news indeed. It was with great trepidation that Rolf hurriedly packed a bag with a few clothes and necessities, including class textbooks and notes. He left the boarding house, walking briskly to the Riga train station, which at midday was nearly empty. From the platform, he soon saw the train approaching, steam pouring out of its smokestack, bringing with it the familiar smell of coal smoke, a smell that he had always associated with pleasant memories of vacation, travel and adventure. Although he was unaware that in the next seven years such trips would no longer be so pleasant, he did sense, as he settled into his seat on the half-empty train, that this journey was somehow different, that he was leaving carefree times behind. Even as the locomotive pulled out of the station, gaining speed towards Liepaja, 120 miles westward on the Baltic coast, Rolf’s thoughts were just as rapidly overtaken by a sense of dark foreboding. After crossing the Daugava River, long celebrated by poets as “The River of Destiny,” and once beyond the city limits, the passing scenery opened up to flat countryside with woods, meadows and farmland stretching into the distance, only occasionally interrupted by smaller cities and towns. The first foreshadowing of things to come appeared during that train ride. On sidetracks, about fifty miles outside Liepaja, waiting to continue westward, long, sinister transports carrying an odd assortment of old tanks, horse-drawn wagons and other outdated military vehicles and equipment stood lined up and

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ready, like macabre, silent sentinels awaiting orders to a new post. Jerked out of his reverie, Rolf stared with alarm at the railroad cars, marked with a symbol that was by that time all too familiar to most people living in the Baltic States. On the side of the motley cars, in bold, red paint, was the dreaded Soviet hammer and sickle. Even though Rolf was well aware of recent events in Europe, there was a missing piece of the puzzle, to which he and most people not associated with the Latvian military were not yet privy. He was aware from radio reports that two months prior, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a secret pact, but he did not know that it entailed a plan to partition Poland and to bring the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia under Soviet domination. The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, established Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as secret partners in crime.1 The pact unleashed a flood of miseries, secretly sanctioning Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the official outbreak of World War II while the Soviet giant stood passively and enigmatically on the sidelines. Or so it seemed at first. The ominous transports only served to confirm Rolf ’s worst suspicions, for in his heart he already feared that the summons from his father must be connected with the Soviet threat that had been hanging like a storm cloud over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania ever since the Russian Revolution toppled the Czarist Regime in 1917. That was two years before Rolf was born, but he knew from the history books in school and from dinner table conversations growing up that Latvia had been part of the vast Russian Empire until the beginning of World War I when Germany defeated the Russian armies there and gained control. In 1918, after World War I ended, the country nominally gained its independence, but for two more years Germany and the new Soviet government each made numerous attempts to reestablish a foothold in Latvia. It was only with the help of Great Britain and France that the Latvian people were finally victorious. In 1920, peace was established and an independent, democratic Latvia emerged out of the chaos. During the tumultuous years of World War I, Rolf ’s father Ernst, a Latvian of German descent, had served as a Czarist Russian officer and was taken

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prisoner of war by Germany. He continued working in Germany upon release from the prisoner-of-war camp at the war’s end. Shortly thereafter, he met and married Maria. It was there in 1919, among his mother’s people, in the part of Germany west of the Rhine River called the Rhineland, that Rolf was born. German-born Maria would have much preferred to stay in her native land indefinitely, but in September of 1921, with peace seemingly restored in Latvia, Ernst insisted that the family return to his Baltic homeland. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of war, relations between native Latvians and those of German descent chilled to the point of open hostility. If the truth be told, they were never particularly amicable. Native Latvians made up about seventy percent of the population, with the remaining thirty percent split between Baltic Germans and Latvian Jews. The Baltic Germans were historically landowners and professionals, the Jews were mostly merchants, and the native Latvians, by and large, worked as farmers and laborers. Much farther back in feudal times, many of the native Latvians had labored as serfs on the great estates of Baltic Germans, so there was a long trail of animosity. Yet Ernst had been optimistic that the hostilities would blow over, as they often had in the past. Once Rolf and his sister Ruth, who was born in Latvia in 1923, were old enough to understand, Ernst merely cautioned them to speak only Latvian in public. Never mind that their mother, Maria, had been born in the Rhineland and had never learned Latvian. And never mind that the toddler, Rolf, with his very light blonde hair and blue eyes, was impossible to pass off as a native Latvian. But Ernst had been partly right: after the First World War ended, things in Latvia did settle down to a stable, if occasionally tense, coexistence between the various national and ethnic groups. After switching trains, Rolf reflected on his life in Latvia as the train raced along the tracks to Kara Osta, the suburb north of Liepaja where his parents lived. Despite memories of a few difficult times during his formative years, Rolf had always considered the little nation by the Baltic Sea to be his home. He did not think it likely that the ancient tension with the native Latvians was the reason for his father’s sudden call. Rolf was aware that just a couple of months earlier, the Latvian military had abruptly ordered a partial mobilization of its forces for

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purposes of national defense, fearing that the Soviets might take advantage of Europe’s preoccupation with the war and attempt to reestablish a foothold in the area. And during the previous month, there had been rumors that the military base in their home city of Kara Osta, along with many other bases in Latvia, would soon be taken over by the Soviets and leased to them for ten years. What that really meant had been unclear, but his father’s cryptic summons now suggested that things had taken a turn for the worse; the presence of Soviet transports outside of Liepaja confirmed it. By late afternoon, Rolf arrived at the family home, a five-room apartment in a sturdy, imposing, two-story granite building that had formerly provided quarters for Czarist Russian officers and their families, and which now was the official housing for Latvian military families. This had been the Dutzmann family’s comfortable haven for over seventeen years, but on the day of Rolf ’s return, the once orderly and peaceful home was a beehive of frenzied activity. Most of the rooms in the apartment, freshly painted and redecorated just a few months earlier, were in wild disarray with boxes and wooden crates strewn everywhere and a multitude of packing projects underway. Ruth, Rolf ’s sixteen-year-old sister and only sibling, was carefully packing the family’s china, crystal and glassware in the dining room. Aunt Paula, one of his father’s sisters, was also present to help. She was the aunt that Rolf had come to know best over the years because of all the time she had spent helping him to master the Latvian language which had caused him such affliction during his early school years. His father was not present, but his mother, Maria, a woman in her early fifties, with features too sharp and angular to be beautiful in the classical sense, but a smile that had the ability to light up her face, stopped what she was doing to give him a hug and to inquire whether he was hungry or thirsty. Rolf noticed immediately that her usual impeccable sense of style and grooming had been abandoned. She had taken little care in her appearance that day and there was a strained look about her eyes as she smiled up at him, taking his face between her hands and pushing the wavy blonde hair back from his forehead.

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“We’re moving?” Rolf asked anxiously, his striking blue eyes wandering around the untidy quarters. “Yes, the Russians are coming and all Latvian military personnel must be out of the area by November tenth,” replied Maria. “So that includes Father?” “Yes, that includes your father. His plant is being moved to Salaspils, southeast of Riga. I will let him tell you the rest when he returns home.” She set Rolf to work packing his own possessions, and then turned her attention once more to overseeing the packing of the family’s collections of books, china, crystal, silverware, linens and other valued items. The rest of his questions would have to wait. When his father came home that night, Rolf was still awake. He knew right away that Ernst was home because he could hear his voice in the front hallway and, even at that late hour, the sound of laughter from Maria as he regaled her with some humorous anecdote. His father’s perennial sense of humor had always been one of his most admirable qualities. A man of medium height with a strong build and a dark-haired, distinctly Slavic appearance, Ernst had piercing eyes that, like the nearby Baltic Sea, could rapidly change from sky-blue to storm-gray. Although commanding full respect at the artillery laboratory where, as a captain in the Latvian Army, he supervised a munitions shop, he maintained a relaxed attitude at home with his wife and children, having long since relinquished the role of household disciplinarian to Maria. Rolf intercepted his father in the hallway, his sister, Ruth, following close behind. Ernst’s face lit up as soon as he saw his children, especially Rolf, whose presence had been sorely missed since he moved away to Riga. Ernst’s pride in his son would have been evident even to the most casual observer as they exchanged a characteristic, hearty embrace. When Rolf launched into a barrage of questions, Ernst explained that he was personally responsible for organizing and supervising the packing and transport of all of the equipment from the artillery laboratory, leaving only the empty shells of buildings behind for the Soviet takeover. He would be unavailable, therefore, to assist with the dismantling of the household.

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“We have other decisions to make, however,” he continued, addressing the entire family. Signaling Maria, Rolf and Ruth to follow him into the sitting room, he laid out the basic facts of the family’s situation. The picture that he painted of their future in Latvia under a Soviet regime was alarming. They would not be welcome under the new regime. All of their lives, but especially his own, would be in danger. Even if their lives should be spared, there would be few if any opportunities to make a living. Finally, Ernst closed by saying that life under Soviet domination would be oppressive and uncertain at best, and that many of the personal and collective freedoms that they had enjoyed in the previous two decades of Latvian autonomy could be expected to disappear virtually overnight. “Our only recourse,” he concluded, “is to leave Latvia.” Rolf quickly grasped the seriousness of their situation. What took longer to sink in was the absence of agreeable alternatives. Turning the family’s dilemma over and over in his mind, no other viable solution presented itself—the comfortable life to which they had become accustomed was over. However, with so much to be accomplished, he found little time to dwell on those thoughts. They merely formed a persistent backdrop to the round of daily activities during those transitional months—a backdrop of fear and uncertainty tempered by an involuntary touch of excitement and curiosity about the new life awaiting them, either of which could set his heart racing wildly. Under the able direction of Maria, the packing project was rapidly accomplished with most of their possessions carefully wrapped and placed into wooden crates to be transported via rail to Riga. However, there was also much that needed to be left behind and they faced many difficult decisions in the days ahead. A few days later, Ernst called an extended family conference at Rolf ’s grandmother’s home in Liepaja—a two-story wooden house with two apartments on the first floor that were usually rented out to tenants and a large, comfortable living space on the second floor that was occupied by Rolf ’s grandmother and two of his aunts. The gardens behind the house, generously

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planted with berry bushes and apple trees, and a nursery with a greenhouse next door, still verdant in the month of October, made the home almost seem to be out in the country, situated though it was in a row of similar houses on a residential street. When they arrived, the table was already set. An aromatic, lattice-top Apfelkuchen (apple cake) sparkling with sugar and cinnamon crystals and a platter piled high with Rolf ’s favorite cinnamon pastries were already set out on the coffee table in the large dining room. By that time, Rolf ’s grandfather was no longer living, but present were his paternal grandmother, Julia; two of his father’s sisters, Paula and Ada; and his father’s younger brother, Alfons. Emily, a third sister of Ernst’s, lived on a farm a considerable distance away and was unable to be present. An atmosphere of heightened tension and expectancy held sway over the gathering. Even Aunt Paula, in spite of her assistance in packing, had not yet been fully apprised of the family’s plans, which Ernst, Maria, Rolf and Ruth had established just three days prior. Rolf noted that his father waited until after they had enjoyed the cake and coffee to make the announcement that he knew could only come as a bitter blow to the extended family. “As all of you know,” Ernst began, speaking in German so that all including his wife Maria would understand, “the Soviets will very soon be occupying the local military base and we are moving to Riga where I will continue my employment for a time. The fact is that Latvia has had to decide between waging a hopeless, bloody resistance to the overwhelming military might of Soviet Russia or giving its consent for a takeover. For better or for worse, Latvia has chosen the latter.” He paused for a moment. “What you do not yet know is that we have decided as a family to accept the offer of repatriation extended by the German regime.” There was a collective, audible gasp of shock at this news. It was seventeen years prior that Ernst had returned to Latvia from Germany after World War I, bringing with him his two-year-old son and his German bride, Maria, a woman more than eight years his senior. Ernst, the oldest of five siblings, had been

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welcomed back into his family with great relief and celebration. The shock and consternation on their faces now at this unpleasant news, revealed the anguish they felt at the prospect of losing him yet again. Rolf noticed his grandmother and Uncle Alfons glancing furtively over at Maria. Their distrust and lack of acceptance of this German woman born in the Rhineland, who had neither learned the Latvian language nor made much attempt to assimilate into their culture or to make herself liked, had never before been so painfully evident. “Is there no other alternative, Ernst?” asked Rolf ’s grandmother. Ernst continued, “The Soviets are notorious for breaking their agreements and I am sure the ten-year lease of our military bases to them will be no exception. Mark my words, once the Soviets arrive here, they will topple the government and Latvia will become a Communist territory in no time at all. It is easy to guess what our fate would be if we were to stay. I have many overt and covert enemies at the artillery laboratory, mostly native Latvians with Communist leanings and an axe to grind against Baltic Germans like us. For two decades they have witnessed my outspoken criticism against Soviet policies and Communism in general.” “If we stay, Father would most likely be executed immediately or sent to Siberia,” Rolf interjected. “Either way, we would be unlikely to ever see him again.” After a pause, Ernst continued, “Maria, Rolf, and Ruth would also face increased danger on my account, and I consider their survival to be my chief responsibility. After discussing this as a family,” directing a pointed look at his mother and Alfons, “Even with the uncertainties surrounding a return to Germany during wartime, we all consider the repatriation offer to be the lesser of two evils.” This pronouncement was followed by a stunned silence, finally broken by Aunt Paula. “And what about your engineering studies, Rolf? With Germany already at war, will you be allowed to continue them?”

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“Unfortunately, I may not know until we arrive there. Father has said that it is unlikely we will even be told of our resettlement location until after we embark,” stated Rolf with a tone of barely disguised unease. “Well, even though I am as shocked as everyone else, I think you cannot be too careful with so much at stake. And therefore, I must say I find myself in full agreement with your decision, Ernst,” responded Paula. Paula was the second oldest only to his father and Rolf had always considered her a force to be reckoned with—a woman equal in intelligence, drive and energy to any man, a woman who refused to be intimidated or “kept in her place.” He especially appreciated her keen intelligence and common-sense approach at a time like this. “You cannot afford to risk staying here,” she continued. “We know the Russians’ reputation for dealing harshly with anyone who is not in alignment with their propaganda. They would most certainly kill you, and maybe Maria, Rolf and Ruth too. Perhaps we all would be in greater danger if you chose to stay.” At this, her sister, Ada, nodded in wordless agreement. There was a short silence after which Alfons stood up and, switching to the native Latvian tongue, stated in a carefully controlled tone, “Have any of you considered that what you are contemplating will make you traitors to your homeland? You will be abandoning Latvia to her fate along with all of us, your own family. Not only that, but the country that you are defecting to is one that has been an enemy of Latvia for centuries!” He rose from his chair, his voice also rising as he became increasingly distraught. “You will be traitors! Does that matter to you at all?” “That will be enough, Alfons!” The matriarch of the family stared him down and turned to Ernst. “You must do what you think is best to save yourself and your family. But just remember that your home will always be here in Latvia.” She turned to look at Alfons, as if challenging him to respond, which he did. “Latvia will never accept you back again,” spoken in a tone as cold as Baltic ice. He turned on his heel indignantly, heading for the door, but then swung

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back to face them for one last rebuke: “And I for one, hope never to see any of you again!” His departure was followed by an awkward silence in which his words hung suspended like a lifeless victim in the hangman’s noose. Rolf was stunned. Eventually Ernst commented quietly to his mother and sisters, “It is just as well that he has left. I want you to know that not a word of our intentions should leak out to anyone else. I will continue my work at the artillery laboratory after the move to Salaspils without telling anyone of our plans to repatriate. My enemies among the ranks would think nothing of turning us in.” “Where will you live, Ernst?” asked Paula. “We will find temporary housing. Suspicions may be aroused by the fact that we will not be looking for permanent housing in the area and that our shipments of furniture and other personal possessions will not be arriving. An unexpected delay in our departure could be disastrous.” The rift with Uncle Alfons continued to haunt Rolf ’s thoughts in the following weeks, a time of great activity, but also of anxious anticipation of a new and uncertain phase in his life to commence. He did not know at the time of his uncle’s outburst that Alfons would indeed never see any of them again, but then he was also totally unaware of the impending cataclysm that, in the span of only a few short years, would not only bring sweeping changes to his own life, but would fundamentally change the face of Europe forever.

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Chapter 2

Taking Flight from Latvia

D

ecember 6, 1939, the eve of the Soviet takeover of Latvia, was marked by feverish wharfside activity in the port city of Riga, fueled by fear that had assumed monstrous proportions due to the stories of atrocities committed by the Soviets in other areas they had already occupied. After a few anxious months of keeping up a pretense of permanent resettlement in Salaspils, Rolf, along with his family and two thousand other “enemies” of the Soviet regime, were preparing to board a large passenger ship, the Oceana, for repatriation to Germany. The twenty-thousand-ton ship, used in peacetime as a cruise ship for vacationers, had been abruptly pressed into service for the less light-hearted pursuit of transporting people at risk out of the foundering Baltic States. Like Rolf and his family, most of the people boarding the ship were Baltic Germans, people of German descent living in Latvia. Many of these families had called Latvia home for centuries, some as far back as the late twelfth century, when the German Teutonic Order came to the area and founded the city of Riga.

Rolf and his father were carrying the small amount of luggage that the family was allowed to take on board with them. In addition to a suitcase and one smaller bag, Rolf carried a small stack of magazines: Modern Mechanics, Model Airplane News and some German technical periodicals. Occasionally, he put the

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suitcase and bag down and rested the magazines on them, leafing through the topmost issue. Suddenly a man standing near them addressed Ernst. “I think I know you. Aren’t you the inventor of the automatic assembly machine from the artillery laboratory?” Rolf saw his father stiffen in alarm. They had taken great precautions in the previous six weeks to tell no one other than immediate family members of their plans to leave Latvia. The man continued, “I was a co-worker of the three men who were blown to bits there in ‘31 before that new German press and your invention improved safety conditions.” Sensing the man’s friendly intentions, Ernst relaxed and smiled. “I am surprised that anyone would remember that.” “I remember because my family was also fortunate enough to obtain one of your custom-built radios. Sixteen years old now, but still working. That’s how we keep up with all the news.” “Just don’t believe everything you hear,” replied Ernst with a smile as the line began to move. He turned to board the ship with Maria and Ruth. The man shifted his attention to Rolf, who was gathering up his stack of magazines. “Are you his son?” At Rolf ’s affirmative nod, he inquired, “How are you measuring up against your father’s reputation as engineer and inventor?” “I’ve been building my first plane, a single-seater with a Walter four-cycle, air-cooled engine, and I have started my studies to be an aeronautical engineer. It’s what I want more than anything,” replied Rolf proudly, and then added, his face reddening a bit, “I have a girlfriend too—Anna. And we like to dance.” “Leaving a lot behind then, aren’t you, young man?” the man replied, with the hint of a smile. “I hope to continue my education once we arrive in Germany,” Rolf answered, picking up his suitcase and magazines and preparing to follow his father. And then with a laugh, “As for girls, I’ve heard it said that they exist there too!”

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Rolf ’s feelings inside, however, did not match the happy and confident exterior. It was with a sinking heart that he realized his university studies would be disrupted, perhaps without the possibility of resumption at their destination. He remembered the sad misgivings with which he and his sister Ruth had participated in taking apart, stick by stick, the only home they had ever known, and then moving to the spartan, temporary quarters at Salaspils. From nearby Riga, their belongings were scheduled to go by ship to Germany where they would sit in storage until the family managed to establish a new residence, either in Germany proper or in the Warthegau, the westernmost zone of what was by now occupied Poland. Whereas Rolf had been born in Germany twenty years earlier, he was too young when the family left to have any memories of it, and the thought of moving back there did not hold any attraction for him. He realized that for Ruth, born and raised in Latvia, it was an even more wrenching farewell because Latvia was the only home she had ever known. Their grandmother, uncles, aunts and friends—people with whom they had spent many happy times—were all staying behind. Ruth’s high school education was being interrupted and would have to be resumed in a strange country, and Rolf would have to apply to continue his university studies in new and alien surroundings if he qualified to continue them at all. He realized that if he were to be turned down, the result would be swift induction into the German military, a prospect that filled him with morbid dread. In addition, Rolf had been forced to leave behind all of the prize-winning airplane models, so lovingly and painstakingly assembled from the time he was ten years old, to say nothing of the handcrafted kayak and the full-sized plane that he had worked on with so much effort and pride. All remained in storage at his grandmother’s home in Liepaja. As the ship pulled away from the pier, the family stood on the top deck amidst other people who were waving goodbye to family members and friends. Would they ever see any of their relatives again, Rolf wondered? Would those remaining behind be all right once the Soviets took over? It was just as well that he did not know the answers to those questions, for Latvia was perched on the brink of many tumultuous years. There was some hope of reconnecting with his mother’s

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relatives in the Rhineland—if Germany proper was, in fact, to be their destination, but even Ernst was still not privy to that. Rolf had felt all along that his mother might be secretly glad that they were returning to her homeland, but on board the Oceana, her expression was unreadable. The relatives they were leaving behind in Latvia had not usually been kind to this German woman who remained an aloof outsider to their language and customs. What new trials, he wondered, would they all face in the months and years ahead? Would they be accepted where they were going? As the ship left the harbor, Ernst mused to his son with a tone of regret, echoing Rolf ’s own wistful mood, “I will never live in my homeland again. It is certain that once the Soviets have a foothold here, they will take over completely.” Then, continuing after an introspective pause, “I have no great desire to return to Germany, a country that will never seem like home to me. But, better to swim in a barrel of water than a barrel of mud.” Ernst lapsed into silence again as they watched the city of Riga becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon. Such personal disclosures were uncommon from his father, a man who had experienced massive changes in his life with fortitude and good humor. Rolf reflected only briefly on the meaning of his father’s comment, then was lost in thought over the whirlwind of events that had forced them to flee their home. Now finding himself adrift toward an uncertain future in a land not only unknown to him but also one that was at war, he was unable to suppress a shiver. A shiver of anticipation or of dread? He was not sure. For the first time in his life, he felt that the future was slipping out of his control. A tide of vulnerability washed over him, creating an uncomfortable knot in the pit of his stomach. Eventually Ernst continued with a sigh of resignation, “Sad, that we are not headed for America, the place of my dreams. As a young boy I would sit for hours on the hillside of my parents’ farm, gazing at a sliver of the Baltic Sea glistening like a string of jewels in the distance and imagining myself the captain of a ship bound for America. In my early twenties, I wanted to make good on that dream, but no sponsor was to be found. All my life I have entertained the same dream—to be on a ship bound for America.”

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The shoreline disappeared from view altogether, swallowed up as much by bands of cold fog as by the distance they had traveled. Rolf and his family, as well as two thousand fellow passengers, were now officially without a home and without a country, completely at the whim and mercy of Hitler and the Nazi regime.

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